While some trends come and go, the outdoor kitchen has moved from luxury concept to mainstream reality. In 2005, Americans spent $150 billion on renovations and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, one-third of that went for outdoor living spaces. As is true indoors, the kitchen – be it simply a grill or something more elaborate in nature – is usually the center of this space.
Accordingly, manufacturers and fabricators of cabinetry, appliances, surfaces and other components of the kitchen have stepped up to the plate, and kitchen designers are doing the same as it pertains to these spaces. With all of this attention being paid to outdoor living, it seems a good time to take a look at a few of the issues that are unique to the design of a successful outdoor kitchen environment.
To begin, we must consider the same factors we look at for indoor kitchens: the client’s wish list, budget and space. Among the additional issues we must look at in planning an outdoor kitchen are the location of the kitchen, the site and climate conditions that will impact it, and the selection of products and materials that will be safe and durable for use specifically in that outdoor space.
Location, Location, Location
In many cases, the outdoor kitchen works in conjunction with other social areas of the home. For that reason, sometimes the best place for it is just outside the indoor kitchen. Because most food, equipment and tableware are located nearby, this makes for easy and efficient enjoyment of the space, whether entertaining or enjoying a quiet family meal.
But while it makes connections to power and water easier and more direct, it can also increase the risk of overexposure to fumes and fire. Therefore, ventilation and distance to flammable surfaces must be carefully planned.
Sometimes a particular view – a garden, an activity center such as a pool, or the lay of the land – will clearly dictate placement of the outdoor kitchen further from the main house. This is a decision that can benefit from teaming with a landscape designer to be sure climate-related issues are used to best advantage.
It’s essential to consider the levelness of the land in and near the area where the kitchen is going to be located. An area that is not perfectly level will create havoc with the installation as well as use of the cabinetry and equipment, and a low-lying area may invite drainage problems.
One important consideration when designing an outdoor kitchen is that typical wind direction will dictate the direction cooking odors and smoke will take. This will dramatically influence ventilation needs and efficiency.
Something else to keep in mind is that, often, a landscape designer can help with the design and specification of the water feature and/or fire pit, which are frequently featured as part of the outdoor social space.
Another consideration must be the degree of privacy desired by the client and how it might best be accomplished. Often landscaping will create the “walls” of the space and the desired seclusion. Sun and shade should also be considered, so as to best take advantage of sunsets, summer shade, etc.
Among the other points to cover in locating the space is its impact on views from the interior layout. Additionally, depending on whether the outdoor kitchen is near or far from the house, a smooth traffic area between them will be important so items can easily be transported back and forth during meal preparation or clean up, for instance.
Products and Materials
In recent years, everyone has been getting into the outdoor kitchen act and, as a result, many appliances have been UL-rated for outdoor use. Further digging can reveal what maintenance is required to make the appliance effective in the open-air application, with many of them needing shelter or even discontinued use in inclement weather or climates of extreme temperature.
Still, the advent of these appliances greatly expands the options for cooking, dining and entertaining “al fresco.”